All posts by Meg

Does It Matter How We Dry Our Hands? Indeed It does!


Over the course of several decades, it has been proven by researchers from hygiene authorities that wet hands are more capable of transferring bacteria than hands that are dry. The reason being is that existing moisture allows for bacteria and viruses to transfer to food, objects and solid surfaces through touch.

However, leaving the restroom with dry hands is clear, but the subject of how we dry our hands is rarely focused on, especially since not all hand-drying methods are equally effective.

Several studies have looked into the effectiveness of air dryers versus hand towels, resulting in paper towels being favorable. For instance, one study published by the University of Leeds in 2014 found that the levels of airborne germs near warm air dryers were 27 times higher than those near paper towel dispensers.

Another study done in 2011 by Dr. Anna Snelling, of Bradford University, also indicated an increase in bacteria levels when people rubbed their hands together while using a hand dryer.

“Good hand hygiene should include drying hands thoroughly and not just washing,” said Dr. Snelling in the Journal of Applied Microbiology. “The most hygienic method of drying hands is using paper towels or using a hand dryer which doesn’t require rubbing your hands together.”

Although hand dryers may be more environmentally friendly and less effective, there is an alternative method. The use of touch-free paper towel dispensers are increasing, which can help reduce the spread of bacteria.

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Beggs, C. B., Saville, T., Snelling, A. M., Stevens, D. (2011). Comparative Evaluation of the Hygienic Efficacy of an Ultra-Rapid Hand Dryer vs. Conventional Warm Air Hand Dryers. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 110(1), 19-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2010.04838.x

Roberts, L. (2010). Rubbing Hands Together After Washing Them Increases the Danger of Contamination, Scientists Warn. Telegraph Media Group Limited.

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Trudel, T. (2015). Why Hand Drying Protocols Shouldn’t Be Hung Out to Dry. Food Quality & Safety.

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Researchers Develop “Rechargeable” Plastic Film to Battle Biofilms


Researchers have taken the next step in active packaging by developing a plastic film made with bacteria killing polymers, or numerous molecules all strung together. A method in which researchers have proven to be an effective approach in the fight against biofilms.

Biofilms—a thin, slimy film of bacteria that can stick to a surface—increase bacterial resistance to antimicrobials, as well as to disinfectants, according to the American Society of Microbiology. Biofilms can even function in some respects like a tissue, possessing a primitive circulatory system.

But, by modifying the polymer of plastic films, researchers have established a rechargeable disinfecting material that can be applied to conveyer belts, food-contact surfaces, utensils, as well as other equipment. However, researchers are still in the process of formulating the plastic film.

“Currently, we do not have an active approach to continuously prevent deposition of bacteria during food processing operations,” said Nitin Nitin, a professor and engineer with the departments of Food Science and Technology. “And can only remove these deposits after processing – during a cleaning shift.”

The research team targeted biofilms because they are “the leading cause of cross contamination of food and non-food materials upon contact with contaminated surfaces,” according to the research results published in Applied Environmental Microbiology.

The research team not only succeeded in preventing the formation of biofilms by killing bacteria, but were also able to kill existing biofilms on food production surfaces by applying the plastic film.

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(2017). Fighting Slime: Researchers Develop Bacteria Killing Plastic Film. Food Safety News.

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(2017). What is a Polymer? Polymer Science Learning Center.

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Cossu, A., Nitin, N., Si, Y., Sun, G. (2017). Introduction. Applied and Environment Microbiology, 73 (18), 5.

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Davies, D.G., Rickard, A.H., Sauer, K. (2016). Biofilms and Biocomplexity. American Society for Microbiology.

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What Does It Mean When Milk is Pasteurized?

Since the 1980s when the milk industry saw a decline in sales, they began campaigning with the slogan “Milk Does a Body Good” before evolving into “Got Milk?” But though the campaign promoted the health benefits, in today’s world consumers have a say in choosing if they want raw milk from a farm.

Raw milk is defined as “milk from cows, goats, sheep, or other animals that have not been pasteurized,” according to The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

So, what exactly does pasteurized mean to consumers?

Pasteurization is the process in which milk is heated to a specific temperature for a set period of time in order to kill bacteria and pathogens in the substance. First developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, pasteurization kills harmful bacteria responsible for such diseases as Listeria, typhoid fever and even tuberculosis.

But though consumers have a firm belief that pasteurized milk is not as wholesome as raw or unpasteurized, researchers show no meaningful difference in the nutritional value between pasteurized and unpasteurized milk.

“Ultimately, the scientific literature showed that the risk of foodborne illness from raw milk is over 100 times greater than the risk of foodborne illness from pasteurized milk,” said Benjamin Davis, a CLF-Lerner Fellow, doctoral candidate and lead author of the Johns Hopkins report. “We believe that from a public health perspective it is a far safer choice to discourage the consumption of raw milk.”

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(2017). The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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Maberry, T. (2015). FSM Scoop: Raw Milk. Food Safety Magazine.

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Pearsall, M.J. (2014). Is Raw Milk Increasing Risk in Our Food Supply? Food Safety Magazine.

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Can Proper Handwashing Protect Children at Petting Zoos?


In the last decade or so, petting zoos have been a major source for disease-causing bacteria including E. coli. However, the spread of the disease could be prevented if proper handwashing was practiced.

In 2004, a 13-year-old girl named Katie Maness was taken to a State Fair in Raleigh, North Carolina. Katie and her parents stopped by numerous exhibits to pet cows, pigs and goats. However, one of the goats managed to knock Katie to her hands and knees on the muddy ground. Four days later, Katie started experiencing symptoms of bloody diarrhea and was rushed to the hospital where her family learned she had been infected with E. coli.

So, how does the infection spread?

Perfectly healthy animals can be harboring diseases that can make adults and children sick. And though the pathogens don’t always make the animals sick, they do end up in the animals’ feces, which is where the fecal-to-oral route begins.

Children are more susceptible to infection due to their growing immune systems. Not to mention their unsanitary behavior. What can happen is that feces can get on the animal’s fur, bedding, fence railing, and even in the dust in the air. And after coming into contact with the contaminated area, children often bite their nails or suck on their thumbs, which can spread the infection to their mouths.

“Although animal exhibits at fairs are substantially safe, they’re not risk free,” said South Dakota state veterinarian Russ Daly. “Adequate hand washing and common sense safety measures will help ensure a safer experience for everyone involved.”

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(2017). Stay Healthy at Animal Exhibits. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Andrews, J. (2012). The Petting Zoo Problem. Food Safety News.

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Beecher, C. (2017). Steer Clear of Fair Foibles – Pun Intended; Pigs Problematic, Too. Food Safety News.

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Modern Food Trends: Innovative or a Safety Concern?


As the popularity of modern food trends continue to grow, so does the many food safety concerns associated with them; forcing food safety specialists to stay on their toes in the likelihood of an outbreak. Some of the most talked about food trends today involve some very controversial methods that have caused consumers to fall ill or even die.

Several restaurants have flocked to the idea of keeping a hydroponic wall garden—a method of growing vegetation with either sand or gravel—inside the restaurant. Restaurants do this as way to show their consumers exactly where their herbs and leafy greens are being grown (Nicholson-Kramer, 2017).  Some restaurants have even gone as far as to grow their gardens on rooftops or in flower beds.

But despite how innovative, and downright creative the food trends appear to be, the real question is: is it safe to grow produce where consumers dine? 

Ultimately, no.

The reason being is that some restaurants have yet to consider the possibility of a non-consumer contaminating the vegetation, as well as run the risk of Listeria, and other foodborne disease-causing bacteria, developing when growers lack a good food safety protocol (Nicholson-Kramer, 2017).

Though the thought of locally grown, locally produced products seem like a sensible route to go down. Yet, what most consumers don’t know is that foodservice companies must carry out supplier-approval programs for local growers and producers (Nicholson-Kramer, 2017). In short, they’re required to apply food safety practices at every step of the growing, harvesting, processing and distributing process. Thus, traceability is more vital now than it ever was.

For instance, in 2011, Jensen Farms in Colorado experienced a Listeria outbreak which resulted in 33 people dying from contaminated cantaloupe (Neuman, 2011). One would think locally grown producers would take extra precautions. However, investigators tracked the melons back to a truck that traveled through a cattle lot and possibly brought Listeria back to the packing area.

Evidently, the farm did not follow the FDA guidelines for cooling melons. The guidelines specify that melon supplies are to be cooled by forced-air cooling or by the use of a chilled water drench, which can vary from 13 to 18 degrees Celsius (Melon Commodity Specific Guidance, 2005). And, if done correctly with water, may reduce microbial loads that contaminate the outside surface of melons.  In this case, the melons were packed warm in boxes that were then refrigerated. This method has the potential to produce condensation that promotes Listeria growth. But Listeria isn’t the only outbreak concern as consuming raw cookie dough has developed into a common food trend.

In 2016, 38 people became infected with E. coli in 20 states from the raw flour produced at a General Mills facility in Missouri (Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra, and Signature Kitchens Flour Recalled Due to Possible E. coli 0121 Contamination, 2016). The consumers had reported using the flour in the week before they ate the homemade batter.

So, how does flour, a low-water-activity food, become a hazardous ingredient? Wheat and other grains that are grown for flour production are not treated to kill bacteria that might come from animals, especially birds and rodents, which can defecate on the grain before it is milled into flour (Nicholson-Kramer, 2017). The expectation has always been that the flour used to make food will be cooked before consumption in order to kill foodborne pathogens that may remain in the product. But though consumers may neglect to read the food safety guidelines, it is, however, still the manufacturers’ responsibility to label any packaging appropriately.

For instance, manufacturers of gluten-free (GF) products are also accountable for the strict requirements of defining what GF means on packaging in order to gain GF certification (Nicholson-Kramer, 2017).

So, what does it mean to be GF?

Having a GF diet means avoiding certain grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, or hybrids of these grains since they all contain a protein called gluten (Thompson, 2008). 

Since 2013, the FDA has issued a final rule which defines GF for food labeling in order to help consumers and those with celiac disease (a disease that causes an immune reaction after eating the protein gluten) (Gluten and Food labeling, 2016). So, items labeled as GF must meet the defined standard. The FDA also recognizes that those with celiac disease are interested in seeing GF labels in restaurants and other retail establishments. Thus, the FDA has stated that GF claims in restaurants’ and other establishments’ should be consistent with the FDA’s definition (Gluten and Food labeling, 2016).

Regardless of how creative and futuristic these modern food trends seem to be, the consumers’ safety should always come first. And in order for these food trends to continue, food safety specialists must be ready to respond to the many safety challenges that they bring.



1. (2005, November 7). Melon Commodity Specific Guidance. Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Melon Supply Chain 1st Edition, 13.

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2. (2016). Gluten and Food labeling. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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3. (2016). Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra, and Signature Kitchens Flour Recalled Due to Possible E. coli 0121 Contamination. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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4. Neuman, W. (2011). Listeria Outbreak Traced Back to Colorado Cantaloupe Packing Shed.  The New York Times Company.

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5. Nicholson-Kramer, G. R., R.S./REHS, Fasone, V., R.S./REHS. (2017, June/July). Consumer Food Trends Create Food Safety Challenges for the Foodservice Industry.  Food Safety Magazine, Vol. 23, No.3, 39-40, 42-45.

6. Thompson, T., MS, RD. (2008). So, What Exactly Is a Gluten-Free Diet?.  Gluten-Free Dietitian.

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Chocolate Milk Making a Comeback?

The low-fat 1% chocolate milk including the low-fat flavored milks are making a comeback in schools and are now being reintroduced through the National School Lunch program, School Breakfast program and Smart Snacks. Due in part to educators who have come to the idea that the health benefits of low-fat 1% chocolate milk, and the vitamins and minerals associated with it, outweigh the drawbacks from some extra sugar.

“Dozens of U.S. public schools have banned chocolate milk only to reconsider after milk consumption dropped among students,” Said Rachel Johnson, a University of Vermont nutritionist who toured Canada in support of the country’s dairy industry last year to discuss the benefits of chocolate milk.

However, some educators disagree and have booted the choice of chocolate milk from the cafeteria’s menu, such as the district officials in San Francisco who decided it was a no go. Officials tested the idea in five schools over the past school year and found that in two of them, there was no decrease in the number of milk cartons kids put on their trays, and there was only a slight dip in the other three.

Ultimately, the new rules allow for students to have more flexibility and help schools address the nutrition, taste and health needs of the students they served, linking the chocolaty beverage to improved bone health, especially in children and adolescents.

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Corbin L., (2017). Chocolate Milk back on LAUSD Menus Despite Some Parental Concerns. KABC-TV.

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Johnson R.K., Frary C., Wang M.Q. The nutritional consequences of flavored milk consumption by school-aged children and adolescents in the United States. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002; 102: 853-856.


Kline A., (2017). School Meal Flexibilities for School Year 2017-2018. USDA FNS Memo Code SP 32-2017.

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McMahon, T. (2012). Sweet Redemption: Chocolate Milk Making a Comeback in Schools. National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.

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National Dairy Council and School Nutrition Association. The School Milk Pilot Test. Beverage Marketing Corporation for National Dairy Council and School Nutrition Association. 2002.


Tucker, J. (2017). Chocolate Milk Booted Off the Menu at SF School Cafeterias. San Francisco Chronicle.

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Is Our Go-To Mac and Cheese Snack Unusually Toxic?

From organic based to the blue box brand, mac and cheese is the go-to snack for most American consumers. But though America’s favorite processed cheese food is what every family serves, the food also serves up a hefty amount of phthalates. Phthalates are a class of chemicals that are considered to interfere with the body’s hormones, and are possibly dangerous to pregnant women and children.  Which, yikes—sounds bad.

However, scientists haven’t been able to weigh in on the study methods, designs, conclusions, or dosage for that matter. So, there is no accepted threshold for how many phthalates you need to consume before they harm you.

“There’s really no dose that we know that will lead to significant health effects,” said Sheela Sathyanarayana, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Sathyanarayana noted that she had not run the numbers herself yet, but commented that one would probably need to eat multiple boxes a day to start seeing clear negative health effects.

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Matthews, S. (2017). Please Don’t Panic Over the Chemicals in Your Mac and Cheese. The Slate Group.

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Pierre-Louis, K. (2017). Mac-N-Cheese Probably Isn’t More Toxic Than Other Foods. Popular Science.

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Singal, J. (2017). You (Probably) Don’t Need to Worry About the Chemical in Your Macaroni and Cheese. New York Media LLC.

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What Is Fecal Coliform and Why Is It in My Coffee?


A small BBC investigation team discovered that iced coffee products from several coffee chains including Caffe Nero, Costa Coffee and even Starbucks were contaminated with a bacteria called fecal coliform.

So, what is fecal coliform? No, it’s not fecal matter.  “It’s a large group of bacteria that can be found in feces,” said Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist and an associate professor at North Carolina State University. “However, the bacteria can also be found in many other things in the environment, such as fruits and vegetables.”

Fecal coliform are bacterial “indicators”, meaning they indicate that something may be present that could make a person sick, but its presence doesn’t signify that someone will for sure get sick. The bacteria also acts as an aid for the digestion of food.

Chapman went on to say that it was unclear as to what type of testing the investigators used for the BBC report. In addition to this, if the investigators only looked for bacterial DNA, then we would have no indication if the bacteria was alive or dead.

“We eat dead bacteria all the time,” Chapman added. As a reference to the fact that dead bacteria aren’t going to make people sick.

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(2017). Faecal bacteria ‘In ice in costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero’. BBC.

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Miller, S. G., (2017). No, There Isn’t Poop in Your Iced Coffee. Live Science.

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Oram, B. (2014). Fecal Coliform Bacteria in Water. Water Research Center.

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Does Using the Right Type of Sponge Reduce the Risk of Infection? Yes, It Does!

It’s no secret that household kitchen sponges play a key role in cross-contamination and harbor bacteria, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli during food preparation, increasing one’s risk for infection. However, not all sponges handle foreign contaminates the same.

In this study, it was found that chlorine levels were reduced by 24% after 30 minutes when cellulose sponges were used, but no such reaction occurred when the polyurethane sponges were tested. Although if more effective disinfectants were involved, this result would be expected with the use of polyurethane sponges rather than cellulose sponges.

Polyurethane sponges showed signs of having lower numbers of bacteria, coliforms, Salmonella and E. coli present than cellulose sponges.  Thus, having a reduced risk of infection by almost 90% if pathogenic (disease-causing) E.coli were present in polyurethane sponges.

Overall, the antimicrobial polyurethane sponges used to clean biodegradable organics (or food debris) showed significant advantages compared to using antimicrobial cellulose sponges in order to decrease the risk of infection, and the amount of commonly used disinfectants required.



Chaidez, A., M. Soto-Beltran, C. P. Gerba, and S. H. Tamimi. 2014. Reduction of Salmonella infection by use of sodium hypochlorite disinfectant cleaner. Let. Appl. Microbiol. 59:487-492.

Chaidez, C., and C. P. Gerba. 2000. Bacteriological analysis of celluse sponges and loofahs in domestic kitchens from a developing country. Dairy, Food Environ. Sanit. 20:834-837.

Engelbrecht, K., D. Ambrose, L. Sifuentes, C. Gerba, I. Weart, and D. Koenig. 2013. Decreased activity of commercially available disinfectants containing quaternary ammonium compounds when exposed to cotton towels. Amer. J. Infect. Contr. 41:908-911.

Enriquez, C. E., V, E, Enriquez, and C. P. Gerba. 1997. Reduction of contamination in the household kitchen environment through the use of self-disinfecting sponges. Dairy, Food Environ Sanit. 17:550-554.

Enriquez, C. E., R. Enriquez-Gordillo, D. I. Kennedy, and C. P. Gerba. 1997. Bacteriologic survey of used cellulose sponges and cotton dishcloths from domestic kitchens. Dairy, Food Environ. Sanit. 17:20-24.